May 12, 2013 / 2:57 PM / in 6 years

Bangladesh arrests top Islamist leader on war crimes charges

Activists of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami throw brick pieces as they block a street during a clash with police after hearing the verdict of the trial of Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, in Rajshahi May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladeshi security forces arrested on Sunday the leader of the country’s biggest Islamist party on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, a senior police official said.

AKM Yusuf, the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, was arrested in the capital Dhaka and charged with offences dating back to Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.

His arrest comes after the sentencing to death last week of another Islamist party leader for wartime atrocities. That decision brought a wave of violent protest from supporters, and police say they are concerned about the risk of a backlash from Jamaat activists.

More than 100 people have been killed in protests and counter-protests since January, when a tribunal set up by the government to investigate alleged abuses in the war sentenced to death in absentia a former senior Jamaat-e-Islami figure.

Jamaat opposed Bangladeshi independence from Pakistan in the war but denies accusations that some of its leaders committed murder, rape and torture during the conflict.

The party was not immediately available for comment on Sunday.

On top the political violence, Bangladesh is reeling from a garment factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 people last month. The unrest is one of the main challenges facing the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as it approaches elections that are due by next January.

Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Daniel Magnowski

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